Even the meatloaf was different.
It was November 2019, and Leonilyn Richardson and her two children had just moved to rural Burlington to live with her new husband when food-related culture shock set in.
“When she came here, I said, ‘I’m going to cook a meatloaf.’ I do pretty well with meatloaves,” Ron Richardson recalls. “And when I put it on the table, she looked at it like, ‘it’s not meatloaf’.”
Originally from the Philippines and a resident of Taiwan for five years, Leonilyn had never seen anything quite like American meatloaf. The meatloaf she was used to came out of a tin can.
“It feels more like spam,” Leonilyn explained Tuesday from the desk of her office on the ground floor of the newly renovated Blaul Lofts building at the corner of Valley and Fifth streets.
It is there, in this 3,400 square foot storefront, that Leonilyn plans to open the Filipino-Asian store Lynne’s Food Cravings.
“I named this business Lynne’s Food Cravings because I really crave everything from my country, and also from Asia,” Leonilyn said.
The physical storefront is built on an online business of the same name that Leonilyn launched in August and operates from her home, the basement of which until recently was teeming with inventory as Leonilyn’s only Asian grocery store phased out. took over her husband’s man cave.
“(Clients) keep coming to our basement,” Leonilyn told The Hawk Eye Tuesday from her office in the newly remodeled space at Valley and Fifth streets. “Even the mail lady, she buys me stuff.”
“I’ll be coming home from the road and I’ll be sitting there watching TV in my pajamas and here’s a bunch of people in the basement, like, ‘hi’,” added Ron, who works as a truck driver. . with a laugh.
It was while taking orders at the Burlington Post Office for delivery that Ron met a friend who works maintenance at Blaul Lofts. The 106-year-old building first used as a coffee roaster was renovated in 2020 to house 39 apartments and 15,000 square feet of commercial space.
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“He asked me how I was doing, and I said, well, we’re kind of looking for a place in town. It’s getting too big for the basement now,” Ron said. “So we came here and watched this and here we are.”
The Richardsons rented the space in February and submitted the permit documents on Friday. Leonilyn will continue to operate the online store and hopes to open Lynne’s Food Cravings storefront this month.
Leonilyn also plans to transport frozen food and other basics, such as milk and soda, to meet the needs of those who live in the apartments above her store as well as those who will live in the Churchill buildings. and Ebert nearby, which are being renovated. to house 50 homes at market price.
From beauty to gluttony
Leonilyn’s move to the United States came just months before COVID-19 shut down the world, making impossible the trips she and Ron had planned to return to the Philippines to visit family.
The tastes of home helped during this time, she said, explaining how happy she was the first time Ron took her to Sa3m Sao Market in Mount Pleasant, the nearest Asian grocery store.
She and her children, John, now 6, and Shaine, now 12, relied on Facebook to keep in touch with their family back home, but the social media site also introduced Leonilyn to the realm of coffee and beauty.
Last March, she began selling Vibrant Coffee and a range of beauty products online via Facebook before designing her own website, LynnesBeautyCloset.com, combining what she learned while studying computer science at National College of Science and Technology in the Philippines and tips and tricks she found on YouTube to build the site to her liking.
She quickly turned out to be a natural businesswoman.
“I just searched all the information about beauty products and people started getting interested in the articles, then it worked for them and they keep getting more stuff and referred my website to their friends, so I got more customers,” she said. “I have also set up a referral program on my website where they can refer people and get discounts.”
With the success of her beauty product sales, she was able to quit her job at Walmart and focus her efforts on her business. Feeling she had enough experience under her belt and still wanted to eat at home, she spotted an Asian food wholesaler, Wood Dale, Philippine Food Corporation, based in Illinois, and designed another website, LynnesFoodCravings.com.
The beauty products that filled the Richardsons’ basement were soon joined by dried seafood, banana-based ketchups in a range of flavors, soup mixes, seasoning packets, mung beans, Pik-Nik fries, Goldilocks cookies, piyaya and whatever else she might need. prepare their favorite meals.
Word spread quickly and the Richardsons soon found themselves shipping an average of between 20 and 30 orders a day. Between her two ventures, Leonilyn was able to bring in enough money to rent the space for a physical storefront.
“That’s the good thing about his business here too,” Ron said. “If something like (COVID) happens again, she’s got her thing online that can pay the bills.”
What started as a hobby paved the way for a marriage
Just as Leonilyn’s businesses started online, so did her relationship with her husband.
The two met on a dating site. Ron opened an account on the recommendation of a colleague while employed at the Iowa Army Munitions Plant, and Leonilyn joined out of curiosity.
She was working in Taiwan at the time as an LCD inspector, a job she accepted with a three-year contract to send money home to support her children and family.
“On my break, I look on the website and just watch,” she recalls. “I didn’t really look serious. It was like a hobby.”
One day, she came across Ron’s profile, with whom she had been matched based on her interests, values and personality.
Each intrigued by the other’s appearance and hardworking nature, they began exchanging messages.
“He seems hardworking. I have two kids, so I thought he would be a good husband and father to my kids,” Leonilyn said. “I like a simple guy. I don’t like guys who carry a lot of stuff, so that’s it.”
“They can’t really make a lot of money in the Philippines,” Ron said. “So she was in Taiwan and she was supporting her whole family while she was working there and I was like, well, she’s not afraid to work. … She’s someone who wants to working to improve his life, just like me.”
The two were smitten, and two months after they started talking, Ron found himself on a plane for the first time in his life and traveling halfway around the world to meet Leonilyn in person in Taiwan. .
“I had never flown before,” Ron said. “I had never even been to an airport.”
At the end of Ron’s visit, they decided to get married and dove into the government paperwork that would allow Leonilyn and her children to move to the United States.
With the proper paperwork filed, they met again, this time in the Philippines for an interview at the United States Embassy and to meet Leonilyn’s family, including her children who were living with Leonilyn’s parents while she was working in Taiwan. She had had daily video calls with her daughter, but her son was too young to understand.
“My baby, he didn’t know me when I got home, so it was a bit difficult for me,” she said.
Three weeks later, Leonilyn received a green card and she and her children flew to the United States
Leonilyn and Ron got married soon after in their living room.
The couple enrolled their children in the Danville School District, although schools in Iowa closed a few months later.
Ron taught Leonilyn to drive, and Leonilyn impressed Ron with her computer skills.
“She was going to get someone to build her websites for her, and then she got to tinkering and was like, ‘I think I can do this. I can’t even light one,” Ron said with a laugh.
With the physical storefront opening, the couple doubt they will be able to return to the Philippines anytime soon, but they hope to help other Filipino natives living in the Burlington area connected to their home country, both through taste and by post. Leonilyn said she plans to set up a box in the store that will serve as a drop-off location for area residents wishing to send things to loved ones in the Philippines.
Ron can’t wait to get his man cave back between long road trips. Leonilyn plans to expand her business into Filipino clothing.
Michaele Niehaus covers business, development, environment and agriculture for The Hawk Eye. She can be reached at [email protected]